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Move The Sticks notes: Malik Hooker could be next Ed Reed

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  • By Daniel Jeremiah and Bucky Brooks NFL.com
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Editor's note: NFL.com analysts and former NFL scouts Daniel Jeremiah and Bucky Brooks of the Move The Sticks Podcast share some of their college-scouting notes ahead of Monday night's national championship game, including:

» Why teams in need of a big CB could be in luck in this year's draft
» Two prospects who could go from unheralded to household names on Monday
» A look at the matchup that could decide the national championship game

But first, we kick off this week's notebook with Jeremiah's eye-opening comp for a safety prospect who's generating major buzz in the scouting community.

For the last few weeks, I've been swimming trying to keep up with all of the prospects electing to forego their remaining college eligibility to enter the 2017 NFL Draft. This is shaping up to be a very deep draft class at several positions. One player that jumped off the tape when I studied him -- Ohio State safety Malik Hooker, who announced this week that he intends to apply for early draft entry.

He has the best combination of range and ball skills that I've ever seen in a college safety. His anticipation and awareness is off the charts. I wasn't in Baltimore when Ed Reed was drafted, but I arrived the following year to scout for the Ravens and spent four years around the future Hall of Famer. Hooker is the closest thing I've seen to Reed seen since I've been scouting. He is also very effective in the run game. He takes proper angles and he's a reliable tackler.

I'm not alone in my opinion. Evaluators around the league rave about him and can't believe he's only been a one-year starter. He's just scratching the surface of what he will eventually become. -- Daniel Jeremiah

* * *

Need a big CB? You're in luck this year: NFL teams looking for big cornerbacks to combat the jumbo-sized pass-catchers that are dominating the league will have plenty of options in the 2017 draft. Looking at the initial list of top prospects at the position, I noticed that most measure at least 5-foot-11 or taller according to their media-guide bios. Considering how teams covet long, athletic cornerbacks with dynamic movement skills and outstanding leaping ability, the wealth of options at the position could lead to a run at the position during the early rounds.

"There are a ton of big guys in this year's class," said an AFC personnel director. "These guys are long and can run. ... Whatever you like, you can find in this year's class."

The longtime personnel man went on to tout the impressive talents of Alabama's Marlon Humphrey, Washington's Sidney Jones and Florida's Quincy Wilson and Teez Tabor. Humphrey has yet to reveal his intentions for 2017, but the other three corners intend to apply for early draft eligibility. He discussed how their length, in particular, would give them a chance to match up with some of the big-bodied receivers (Brandon Marshall, Mike Evans, Demaryius Thomas and others) that pose problems on the perimeter.

While most believe length is desired because more teams want to employ press coverage, I believe height and long arms are essential to thriving in zone coverage, particularly Cover 2, where corners are expected to jam or re-route receivers early in their routes. Not to mention, corners with long arms can bat away passes down the field on 50-50 balls along the boundary and in the red zone.

Considering how defensive coordinators are always searching for options to counter the pass-happy attacks that are thriving in the league, the plethora of big cornerbacks in this year's draft could be viewed as a godsend. -- Bucky Brooks

* * *

Alabama's D-line the best in title game? Not so fast: Most of the attention leading up to the national championship game will focus on Alabama's deep and talented defensive line, but I believe Clemson's front line has more star power in the trenches.

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I know it's almost blasphemous to suggest another team has superior personnel than the reigning national champions, but the Tigers' young defensive line group possesses a collection of big, athletic disruptors that NFL scouts covet in the trenches. Starting with Christian Wilkins, a wrecking ball off the edge, the Tigers can control the trenches with their young pups. The 6-foot-4, 315-pounder exhibits terrific first-step quickness and explosive power taking on blockers at the line. Not to mention, Wilkins is an aggressive run stopper adept at corralling runners in the backfield.

Naturally, the presence of one big-bodied disruptor would be enough to make opponents tweak their game plans, but the emergence of Dexter Lawrence and Clelin Ferrell makes the Tigers' front line one of the most feared units in college football. Lawrence, the 2016 ACC Defensive Rookie of the Year, is a massive interior defender (6-foot-5, 340 pounds) with exceptional hand skills and agility. He routinely swipes, bull rushes or swims past blockers on the way to the quarterback (seven sacks during the regular season). Most impressively, Lawrence complements his polished hand skills with the kind of raw strength and power that's rarely seen in sound defenders.

Ferrell stole the show at the Fiesta Bowl with his remarkable feats as an edge defender. He displays rare first-step quickness and burst off the ball, yet he plays with outstanding balance and body control turning the corner. Ferrell's explosiveness and athleticism make him a nightmare to block when he attacks quarterbacks from the open side. With Clemson's high-powered offense routinely forcing opponents to chase points, Ferrell is able to focus his efforts on harassing quarterbacks off the edge.

The Tigers' defensive line is as good as it gets, and a spectacular performance against the Crimson Tide's massive offensive line could convince plenty of scouts to book extended stays in Death Valley. -- Bucky Brooks

* * *

Two candidates to take a star turn in Clemson vs. Alabama rematch: The national championship game features several marquee names in college football, including Deshaun Watson and Jonathan Allen. However, last year's title game featured surprise heroes like Alabama TE O.J. Howard and Clemson WR Hunter Renfrow. Which under-the-radar prospects should we keep an eye on in this year's rematch? I'll give you two:

Clemson TE Jordan Leggett: The Tigers have arguably the most talented wide receiving corps in college football, led by All-American Mike Williams. That should free up the middle of the field for Leggett. He has tight-end size but also possesses wide-receiver quickness and route-running ability. He was a major factor in the ACC title game against Virginia Tech, and I expect him to put up solid numbers in the national championship game as well.

Alabama OLB Ryan Anderson: Every starter on the Alabama defense will eventually get selected in the NFL draft. I can't recall ever saying that about an entire defense. They have star players all over the field, but Anderson is a guy who always seems to make a big play when one is needed. His pick-six against Washington in the Peach Bowl changed the momentum of the game and launched the Tide into a lopsided victory. His ability to slow down the Clemson running attack will be a huge factor in this game. -- Daniel Jeremiah

* * *

Ben vs. Bo: Alabama's sledgehammer offensive approach puts the spotlight squarely on Clemson LB Ben Boulware in the national championship game. The 6-foot, 235-pound defender faces the unenviable task of taking on Crimson Tide RB Bo Scarbrough in the hole in a game that could become essentially a "nine-on-seven" period (inside run drill) with the sledgehammer-type runner plunging between the tackles 25-plus times on an assortment of hard-hitting runs.

Although the big-bodied runner didn't top the 1,000-yard mark during the regular season, he is coming off a spectacular performance (19 carries, 180 rushing yards and two scores) in the Peach Bowl that showcased his potential as punishing RB1. Considering how Alabama wants to wear opponents down with the ground game, how well Boulware protects the middle of the Tigers' defense could determine whether Clemson is able to hoist the trophy at the end of the game.

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Looking at the All-22 coaches' tape, Boulware excels at patrolling the tackle-to-tackle box as a free hitter. He has a knack for slipping blocks and stopping runners in the hole. Boulware's physicality, toughness and non-stop motor jump off the screen when I study the tape, but Scarbrough is unlike any running back the Tigers have faced, with a size-strength combination that's comparable to elite pro runners. With NFL scouts expected to closely study this matchup, Boulware can certainly enhance his draft prospects with a strong performance in the title game. -- Bucky Brooks

* * *

Matchup that could decide championship game: There are several juicy matchups in the title game rematch, but Clemson WR Mike Williams vs. Alabama CB Marlon Humphrey is at the top of my list. Both guys have outstanding size and love to play physically at the line of scrimmage. Humphrey usually enjoys safety help over the top, but he might not have that luxury in this contest if Deshaun Watson becomes a major factor in the Tigers' rushing attack. Williams is one of the best high-point catchers I've seen in quite some time. This matchup could decide the outcome of the game. -- Daniel Jeremiah

Follow Daniel Jeremiah on Twitter @MoveTheSticks.

Follow Bucky Brooks on Twitter @BuckyBrooks.

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